Funny as a spinal tap

by Carl Dyke

I was muchly impressed by this recent interview with Chris Rock, a comedian and cultural commentator I must admit I hadn’t paid much attention to before. (Mostly, my inattention, because his voice reminds me of the stock overexcited kid cartoon voice that I find so irritating. Sorry Chris, my bad.) Among the many striking points he makes, he talks about how he stopped playing college campuses.

…I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.

In their political views?

Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.

When did you start to notice this?

About eight years ago. Probably a couple of tours ago. It was just like, This is not as much fun as it used to be. I remember talking to George Carlin before he died and him saying the exact same thing.

Well, you know, college campuses are perhaps uniquely the places where you can talk about things. So, this is a funny development, and by some way of reckoning a self-inflicted wedgie. On my campus some folks are worried about the liberal arts being under attack. By whom, by whom?

Rock talks about how there’s no backstage any more, nowhere or way to workshop ideas without the glare of righteous judgmental scrutiny. Of course we may be glad that cops don’t get to workshop their ideas about authority and power without fear of video capture, and once we grasp that power and authority work through informal systems, and that the personal is political, none of us can in principle claim a free pass on abuses of situated privilege. Where’s Power? Where’s Authority?


When she was almost 7, Rachel had a serious health crisis, ultimately involving (and perhaps resolved by) a series of spinal taps. Click through for details and some amazing reflection. The way the health professionals treated her and her family reminds her of how the NYPD treated Eric Garner. No wonder she’s interested in how doing right can go wrong! I asked her when spinal taps might be available for laughing about. That was a puzzler.

And Dyke the Elder finally just retired this semester, after around fifty years in the saddle. The precipitating event was a kerfuffle over a student who took offense to Rachel’s multimedia art project, the satirical Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies, as a discussion piece in a class about meaning in the arts. It went to the Dean, the Provost got involved, and rather than anyone having a sense of humor or scholarly integrity, sensitivity training was suggested.

Haha! Empowerment.


5 Comments to “Funny as a spinal tap”

  1. Best wishes to Dyke the Elder. Welcome to the freedom to really say what you think.

  2. P.S. I once again appear to have lost track of the ID and password required to be an active vole instead of just a commentator. Help me get set up again and I will let Safari automate the login for me.

  3. Looks like your ID is through your gmail address. You should be able to use that to get to a reset password option, but if not let me know and I’ll see about a plan B.

  4. Is Chris Rock ever right! It’s a corollary to the ugly truth that there isn’t anything wrong with the education system that isn’t wrong with society as a whole.
    I just deposited a few words on the Phil of Soc Sci thread where I said that the only regret on getting out was leaving a particularly respected colleague behind. Those who know me might ask if I didn’t regret leaving the students behind — I lived a wonderful life off of them for half a century. But no; not any more: first because Rock is right; second because the powers that be use all their power to keep him right; and third because of an unfortunate consequence of his being right. The consequence is that there are, few and far between, young people who Rock isn’t right about; and for obvious reasons they tended to leak into my upper level UG classes. There are two species: orphans and airheads. Since my courses were philosophy courses, the latter species dominated. Philosophy as a discipline is the sink for dreamers (alas, these days, chemically enhanced dreams) and the philosophers do their part to nurture the dreams and protect them from any nasty intrusion of reality. That leaves the orphans: the ones who can’t find a hand-hold of any intellectual seriousness anywhere in the university. Reality is in the charge of the business school. (The smart business students are studying risk management. That might be worth talking about.) But teaching in those circumstances is extremely difficult, and the rewards few and far between, at least at a place like Temple. I leave the orphans behind with apologies, not with regrets — and, frankly, think they ought to stop wasting their time in classrooms and get into the blogosphere, where they’ll find themselves feeling less like orphans (though with some strange family members to figure out).

  5. Yeah, that’s one of the main reasons I keep myself oriented to blogging, even when my effective attention is elsewhere.

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